Tuesday, 2 October 2012

La Forbie Refought

The Guildford Wargamers played Ironbow again on Monday night. In a scenario ‘inspired’ by the battle of La Forbie in 1244, an Ayyubid Egyptian army led by Baibars (Andrew D), consisting mostly of Kwarismian mercenaries, took on an alliance between the Ayyubids of Syria (Dave) and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Daniel). I (Andrew F) umpired and generally criticised. Although the Christians provided the majority of the troops on the allied side, it was Dave, as al-Mansur of Homs, who was C-in-C.

The allies deployed with the village of La Forbie and some scattered olive groves on their right. Into these constricted areas they packed all their Frankish foot – 8 elements each of sergeants and crossbows. Two commands of knights, one secular one Order, (with a few Turcopoles) filled the centre, then a command of less-than-useful Syrian foot, al-Mansur with a single unit of 4 Ghulams under his own command. On the far right wing a command of irregular Turcomen was under an Nasir Dawud of Kerak.
The Egyptians deployed opposite them with their two ‘Egyptian’ commands (one of Mamluks under the C-in-C, and one of Turkish Askaris) more in the centre and the three Kwarismian commands interleaved with them. Each Kwarismian command was in two waves, with one mostly of Steppe Nomads in the front and another mostly of true Kwarismians in the rear.

If either side had a plan, it was not easy to determine what it was, and the game began with both sides advancing towards the centre line as fast as they could. The allied deployment in particular seemed to have been mostly shaped by where the players were sitting at the table, with a powerful force of Frankish foot hidden in the village, whilst a very vulnerable group of Ahdath and Syrian archers were left completely in the air on the left centre.

At the first exchange of archery a unit of Steppe Nomads on the Egyptian right broke, and the unit beside them immediately failed their Disaster check. As the shooting rolled down the line, several other units of Steppe Nomads gave up the ghost, but the Allied Turcoman command was broken by return archery. The Egyptian army shrugged off most of the resulting status losses because no entire command was routed, whereas the allies found themselves on the verge of wavering already. The players, however, seemed to have a completely different view with Andrew D distinctly downcast by the loss of his steppe nomads.

At the start of bound 2, everybody tested for order interpretation due to enemy within 20” and/or a command broken in line of sight. Walter of Brienne, with the secular knights (and Aggression 1) decided to interpret his orders down to Withdraw, whilst on the Egyptian right flank two commands went on to attack orders – one spontaneously and one under orders – directed at al-Mansur’s bodyguard of Ghulams.

The Frankish crossbowmen were starting to edge out from the village of La Forbie, although their shooting was still obstructed to an extent by the groves in front of the village. With their high threat numbers, they did not in fact have to achieve very many hits on the command of Kwarismians and Steppe Nomads in front of them to cause it significant problems, but the command just about held on, meaning that 16 elements of very good foot were being completely absorbed in a fight against half their numbers of horse, many of whom were distinctly dubious Steppe Nomads.

In the centre, the Military Orders were advancing on attack orders and declared charges at the limit of their range against some units of Steppe Nomads who – unsurprisingly – evaded. The Turcomen on the Syrian left flank rallied virtually at the table edge whilst Walter and his knights turned around and quietly filed off the table. The Military Orders were getting fragmented, and as they came under shooting from the mixture of Ghulams and Kwarismians in front of them, one unit of Brother Knights broke, whilst a unit of Turcopoles evaded to the rear. The Steppe Nomads, returning from their evade, tried to chase off this unit of Turcopoles and two units of them burst through the centre of the allied line. This brought the Syrian infantry fully into the game. The Umpire was distressed to discover they had been given Await orders to remain ‘behind the knights’, which seemed rather too vague to be entirely fair, but the Syrian archers were now in range to shoot at a unit of Steppe Nomads. The Nomads were on orders to Threaten the Military Orders, but it seemed fair to let one unit of them shoot back at the infantry who were shooting them. The Saracen Archers immediately broke, and the Ahdath in their command instantly failed their disaster check (Ahdath with a -1 prowess commander aren’t going to pass a lot of those), taking out the whole command to a single archery hit... The Syrians were now Wavering, and an Nasir Dawud of Kerak, still rallying with his Turcomen on the Syrian base edge, decided it was time for Treachery and withdrew, perhaps for a game of chess with Walter of Brienne.

Meanwhile hand-to-hand combat was breaking out. Two small units of Egyptian Askari hopefully charged against al-Mansur and his Ghulams, whilst Baibars led his Mamluks against the Military Orders, ending up in man-on-,man contact with the Order Marshal, William of Chastelneuf. Both combats turned out to be quite finely balanced. William and Baibars were both high-prowess commanders, so mostly cancelled each other out, and the Mamluk advantage in numbers was not enough to gain a decisive victory. Al-Mansur, by contrast, had no Prowess and with only one base fighting against each of two separate Askari units, could not get enough hits on either to prevail. Both combats resulted in all sides falling back, but the Egyptians had more units to feed into the attack against al-Mansur from the two entire commands now focussed personally on his destruction.

The reason of William of Brienne’s early exit became apparent now, as Daniel explained he had a bus to catch. We decided to try to squeeze in one more turn. It turned out to be a short one as, after a very little manoeuvre, al-Mansur’s bodyguard broke in the face of renewed Egyptian shooting. This meant a further command (and the C-in-C) broken so the game was now very clearly over although no doubt the Military Orders would fight on for a while yet before they all died.

Overall, not far from the historical result, with many of the Syrians fleeing whilst their Crusader colleagues fought on. The more consistent quality, and much better commanders, of the Egyptians won through in the end. In particular, the Egyptians had no weak commands whilst the Syrians had two – irregular Turcomen and Syrian foot – both of whom broke easily when exposed to danger. Given that their army was wholly horse archers the Egyptian ‘plan’ to line up across the board and Threaten whatever happened to be opposite them turned out to be good enough whilst the Syrians needed a better plan to use their strong knights and crossbows and mitigate their weak Syrian foot and poor commanders. In particular putting the cowardly Walter Of Brienne in reserve behind the brave William of Chastelneuf was a key error, and bottling up the Christian foot in the village where they had little impact on the game was another. The immediate attack with knights in the front line also seems to be a trademark tactic of Guildford Wargamer generals and not, in my view, a terribly effective one.

Although we don’t play it very well, we continue to enjoy Ironbow a great deal.

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